Each week, we ask an artist to tell us about something that they find inspiring from outside the world of music. This week, we catch up with Paul Thomas Saunders, fresh from releasing latest EP Descartes Highlands, who tells us about the inspiration that he finds in the work, approach and career of Francis Bacon.
I find it hard to knowingly channel anything into music. It’s fruitless and frivolous for me to approach any song with the intention of colouring it with a particular sentiment. There aren’t many things that I can say directly affect my song writing, I don’t have the skill set to consciously turn emotion into creativity, but regardless, while it may not be consistently autobiographical, I keep writing, hoping that unconsciously I can channel something visceral and real. In this pursuit, for years now I’ve found Francis Bacon an abiding inspiration.
I’m under no illusion that any ties lie between the immediate beautiful terror in his art and the disposable nature of the pop music I create, but it’s not necessarily his paintings, and their acutely direct and shocking nature that I find so inspiring.
Quite a few years ago I visited Dublin where Bacon’s South Kensington studio has been relocated and meticulously reconstructed at The Hugh Lane Gallery. I suppose it was here where I began to find his approach, work ethic and self-perceptions so fascinating. It’s a feeling I experience more regularly with records, but there’s a distinct moment when something becomes more than just entertainment. You want to absorb everything you can about it, from its very conception, and then personally, I begin to dissect it, curious about how it, whatever it is, can be so affecting. Perhaps this is where the line is drawn between the things that you simply enjoy and the things that begin to influence the way you think.
It’s hard to describe his studio. Each wall, a colour palette in itself, resembles an abstract painting, and the floor, which you can only assume is still there, is carpeted with enough craft paraphernalia to stock paper chase twice over. Out of the cramped chaos of his workshop came the most visionary order, I think it was a juxtaposition he appreciated. I sometimes worry that my stubbornness to stay in our patchy home studio is ill founded, but his relationship with a workspace is something I strongly relate to.
He was a self-taught artist, and free from any art school indoctrination, his technique was organic. I still find it hard to jump the tracks from my seedy classical music past, but as a producer, I’m grateful to always be at loggerheads with the technology I’m using. I’m happy to be my own guinea pig and not know the limits of the equipment in front of me. Bacon’s uncompromising approach is a constant reassurance that the idiosyncrasies we acquire are what give any creation lasting merit. At least that’s what I tell myself when we’re wrestling with Logic at 5 in the morning.
His creative process was very intuitive. He said in an interview “I have an overall image of what I want to do, but it’s in the working, where it develops”. As an artist he’d rely solely on instinct and chance, without attempting sketches or drafts, he’d paint straight to the unprimed side of the canvas, meaning every stroke was final. Quite literally he either embraced, or burned his work. It’s a reckless approach but in such a processed age, it’s a refreshing notion. With lower aspirations, I like to think that in not demo-ing tracks we’re attempting to capture a similar essence. It’s a liberating way to work and it gives vitality to a task that can easily become laborious.
I’m generally quite reserved about discussing the meaning and inspiration behind my lyrics. I think there’s nothing more self indulgent than a songwriter discussing his own songs, yet, I wonder if the only reason anyone writes anything is in the hope that somewhere, those feelings are replicated by someone else. So perhaps what I find most inspiring about Francis Bacon was his willingness to let people read into his art with so little guidance. He had a relentless faith in the unconscious, and with all his equivocating, the pure violence of life and the shrewdest realism translated through his distorted portraits.
Descartes Highlands is available now through Atlantic Records, and catch Paul at one of his tour dates listed below.